Renowned beauty company L’Oréal recently announced the winners of the North Asia Big Bang Beauty Tech Innovation Program, an initiative that recognises 17 innovative companies hailing from diverse markets in China, Japan, and Korea.
Designed to foster open innovation, inspiration, and co-creation within the beauty industry, the programme aims to pave the way for groundbreaking beauty solutions in North Asia. The winners’ cutting-edge technologies and innovations span various domains, including operations, digital transformation, research and innovation, sustainability, genetic AI, green sciences, and beauty devices.
Retail in Asia speaks with Maxime de Boni, VP for research and innovation, China and North Asia at L’Oréal, on the Big Bang initiative and the beauty company’s strategy in the region.
RiA: Tell us about the North Asia Big Bang Beauty Tech Innovation Program, which aims to drive open innovation, inspiration, and co-creation of beauty solutions in North Asia.
Maxime de Boni: L’Oréal North Asia Big Bang Beauty Tech Innovation Program (Big Bang) is a strategic multi-dimensional initiative to activate the unique innovation ecosystem of the “C-J-K Beauty Triangle” in North Asia. This is the first regional program focused on driving opening innovation, inspiration and co-creation of innovative beauty products and experiences across China, Korea and Japan. The program discovers, supports and nurtures promising start-ups and companies with beauty tech and innovative sciences that can be scaled regionally and globally.
The journey of the Big Bang initiative began in China in 2020, with the launch of the country’s first Beauty Tech Open Innovation Challenge. The program has since been instrumental in shaping the beauty tech open innovation landscape in Asia. Through the partnership with Oriental Beauty Valley and Business France, the Big Bang China Program has attracted over 1,900 Chinese startups and incubated over 50 projects from 2020 to 2023.
After the successful pilot in China, Big Bang marked its official entry into the North Asia region with its first North Asia Beauty Innovation Summit that took place at the 5th CIIE in 2022. It was then officially expanded to Korea and Japan at Viva Technology in June 2023 through partnership with the Korea Ministry of SMEs and Startups, and J-Startup under the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. It marked a significant milestone for L’Oréal to further promote cross-market and cross-sector collaboration for beauty innovation across the three North Asia markets.
In November 2023, the culmination of these achievements came as we unveiled the first Big Bang Beauty Tech & Innovation Platform at this year’s CIIE. The platform is a testament to the success of the Big Bang initiative in driving open innovation in the beauty tech industry. It showcases cutting-edge technologies and innovations related to beauty, demonstrating the initiative’s impact on the industry.
RiA: The winners showcased cutting-edge technologies and innovations in areas like operations, digital, research & innovation, sustainability, generative AI, green sciences, and beauty devices. What does the future of beauty look like?
De Boni: As the beauty leader, L’Oreal wants to build the most powerful ecosystem of partners in the industry to create all together the beauty that moves the world. Our deep commitment is to offer every consumer around the world the best of beauty products and experiences, always more inclusive, always more sustainable, always more personalised.
We are convinced, at L’Oréal, that pioneering the future of beauty means being able to co-create with the best of suppliers, academics, funds, research institutes, vendors, innovative companies, start-ups, or individual inventors. Through Open Innovation, we aim at unlocking new insights faster to accelerate our pace of innovation. All together, we are working together to anticipate and answer consumer’s expectations and desires for beauty with the best of creativity, science and technology to create unprecedented beauty experiences at scale.
RiA: L’Oréal also unveiled the North Asia Big Bang Beauty Tech Innovation Incubation Exhibition at the China International Import Expo, featuring breakthrough sustainable beauty solutions. Can you tell us about some of these solutions?
De Boni: The North Asia Big Bang Beauty Tech Innovation Incubation Exhibition at the CIIE was our first regional beauty innovation showcase where we invited 16 overseas Big Bang participants from Japan, Korea and France to exhibit pioneering technologies and innovations for beauty. We set up three exhibition areas, each dedicated to the unique strengths and focuses of the three markets.
The Japan Incubation Exhibition Area focused on sustainable beauty solutions, covering biotechnology, materials science, and eco-friendly technologies. There were companies with cutting-edge fermentation technologies, leveraging food waste or unique biotech processes to reduce carbon emissions and lessen the burden on our planet. We also saw companies presenting innovative materials that are more natural and can reduce chemical usage during the product development process, while providing better efficacy.
In the Korea Incubation Exhibition Area, our spotlight was on innovative diagnostic technologies and the development of beauty equipment. The latest beauty devices were being showcased. For instance, we witnessed a world-first and groundbreaking handheld device that can assess the sun protection factor (SPF) in just three seconds. Additionally, there were devices that enhance product delivery through different innovative methods.
The France Incubation Exhibition Area featured innovative product research and development technology. The booths included pioneering and sustainable skincare ingredients, as well as cutting-edge skincare solutions driven by new technologies. For example, there were demonstrations of leveraging 3D printing and additive manufacturing to produce human skin, supporting the development of innovative beauty products.
RiA: Tell us about the “Beauty Triangle” innovation ecosystem in North Asia and how you envision this as a driving force for disruptive beauty solutions.
De Boni: North Asia is the most dynamic beauty market in the world with one third of the global beauty market and five geographically and culturally connected markets. It has a unique eco-system we term the “C-J-K Beauty Triangle”, and it is about leveraging the unique and powerful North Asia ecosystem to uncover the future of beauty. We capitalise on the unique strengths of each North Asia market with its western beauty DNA that inspires young Asian consumers, maximising synergies and empowering the development of cutting-edge innovation in the region.
The Beauty Triangle plays an important role in driving open innovation on disruptive beauty solutions. Japan is known for its expertise in cosmetic science, materials, and sustainable solutions. Korea for its advancements in skincare, beauty devices, and digital technologies. And China, with its growing beauty market and vibrant start-up ecosystem, fostering innovation across various segments of the industry. Through cross-cultural exchanges, knowledge-sharing and partnerships, the three pivotal markets present collaborative opportunities to advance the development of breakthrough products and experiences that cater to specific consumer preferences in each market.
Furthermore, the Beauty Triangle empowers us to partner with fast and agile suppliers, vendors, innovative start-ups, and professionals across region. Given we are situated in the most beauty intense region, our ambition is to shape the future of beauty with innovation centers in Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul through open innovation, while investing in beauty tech transformation as one of the three beauty tech hubs globally. Leveraging L’Oréal’s unique R&I footprint, we maximize the synergies of R&I capabilities and release power of innovation, taking consideration of unique added value of each three markets.